When I agreed to buy the house we now live in I didn't realise that it had no bath. I have bought shoes and realised only later that they are impossible to walk in. But buying a vehicle and not noticing until in the middle of a busy road that I couldn't reach first and third gears is probably my most serious omission to date.
We left the village of the van, and I'm sure I must have pulled away in first, changed up through the full gamut of the gears until I reached fourth, before settling into comfortable pootle through the Bedfordshire countryside, so I have no idea what happened. I only know that at some point I found I could not stretch my stubby arm the further inch required to get the bloody gear-lever into the position I needed it to be in to negotiate the stop-start traffic on the main road into town. Thank goodness Bob was with me.
As I panicked and Bob came up with a plan to keep moving we forgot all the beautiful gardens we had been cheerfully peering over walls at, in our new extra high position. I squealed 'first' or 'third' and hit the clutch while Bob wrestled with the lever sticking out of the floor and the van faltered before bump-starting off. Glistening lawns the colour of newly minted peas, magnolia trees in full flower, tulips to rival Amsterdam, were now, as a fiendish looking roundabout loomed, the last things on our minds. I slowed to a crawl and the van groaned, yelled ‘third!’ and secretly hoped I wouldn’t have to stop. Why were all these people out at this time on a Sunday, didn’t they have lunch to see to?
The trip to Scotland would be fine I told myself, you don’t use first on motorways. Getting to the M1 might be tiresome, but once we've had a bite to eat and a wee relax we'd manage it, no problem. Anyway we were getting the hang of things. Then, at the last set of traffic lights before we turned into Stevie's parent's road the van cut out. Constantly turning the key in the ignition didn’t help, it would not re-start: beep-beep-beep!!!!!! The other drivers on the road were failing to see the charm in our melting-butter coloured van. I rummaged about in my bag for my phone so I could call the AA and, a little moist around the hairline, decided before dialling to give it one more go: it started! I threw it round the corner as the lights went from green to amber and then just as I was trying to park in front of the house it cut out again, its back-end sticking out into the road. And this time no amount of key turning was going to get it moving.
Bob went into the house and made tea as I waited on the doorstep to apologise to any driver who came along, and for the AA. As I was beginning to regret ever having heard of these vans along came a fellow enthusiast. On his way to see his mother, four doors down, he told me how he’d travelled round Australia in a van just like mine during his gap year. He had dreamt of owning one ever since. If I ever wanted to sell, he beamed, I must speak to him first. ‘But it doesn’t work’ I said.
‘But just look at her!’ he said, ‘she’ll be back on the road in no time, these vans last forever. Have you given her a name?’
‘Tilly’ I answered.
He helped me get her into a better position by the curb and off he went, leaving me feeling much more cheerful.
But the AA man, unfortunately, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic when he came and took a look at the engine. We weren’t going anywhere in this van for a very long time.
He towed us to a nearby garage where we were advised that she should not have passed her MOT and was not in anyway roadworthy. She was in such bad condition that they wouldn’t even consider taking on the work. They got it back to the in-laws for me and Bob and I took the train home.
The next weekend Stevie and I went back to Bedford with a tow bar. There began the scariest journey of my entire life.